Sunday, May 13, 2012

Not Our World

I'm part of a small group that meets the last Tuesday of each month at Cornerstone UMC. Called "Pushing the Envelope", the structure is simple. There's a bag filled with envelopes. Inside the envelopes are articles from the net on any topic whatsoever. The only rule is we discuss the topic. It's really that simple. Free-ranging, with only our sense of etiquette and mutual respect as guides, the group is a wonderful opportunity for a small group to tackle important matters without the distance and anonymity provided by the Internet for people to be assholes.

At the end of April, there was an article about complaints from the city of Crystal Lake, IL about their Wikipedia page. I chuckled to myself while the person read the article, because, well, it's Wikipedia. The discussion moved to the way information is shared on the internet, through the technological changes through which we've lived over the past decade and a half, to some personal reflections on those changes. I forget precisely what the specifics of the complaint were, but one person complained of the way the combination of technology and the evolving rules of interpersonal interaction were something this person refused to accept. In February, we had a marvelous exchange on the propriety of vulgarity. 

In both instances, I came down on what I tend to think is the anti-curmudgeon side. While I certainly do not understand all the intricacies of our on-going high-tech revolution, I consider myself a huge booster of all the ways the Internet provides the opportunity for more people to share with more people all sorts of things. Some of those things are false, sure. It isn't like there was never false information spread far and wide for a variety of purposes in the past; the only change, really, is the pace at which all this information sails around the planet then back again. If you don't believe me, look up The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Shoot, you can check that out on Wikipedia!

As for profanity, the specific was a bit of harrumphing about Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel telling either the city's school superintedent or a member of the school board to "shut the fuck up." Not surprising at all, at least for those who know a bit about Emmanuel's history and reputation. He is, after all, known as Rahm "Fucking" Emmanuel for the liberality with which he sprinkles his speech with that particular gerund. I have to chuckle at people who search for the fainting couch whenever they read or hear such language. Are they such children? I grew up, like most everyone my age, hearing that such language betrays a certain cast of mind, a paucity of thought, a meanness of mind, on and on and on. 


Seriously. Grow. Up.

These two, somewhat related, phenomena are signs that the world, changing as it is, is doing so in such ways that it will not at all resemble the world in which people my age came of age, let alone grew up. Even more than the old saw that the world is something one generation holds in trust for the next, the "next generation" is already taking that particular bull by the horns and making it ever more in to a world that more accurately reflects their concerns, preferences, fears, and hopes. Even someone my age is, to be honest, quite out of touch with all the details of the ever-changing technological, social, and cultural landscape. And that's OK.

One part of this understanding of the world as changing that troubles me a great deal is this:
When asked by The Barna Group what words or phrases best describe Christianity, the top response among Americans ages 16-29 was “antihomosexual.” For a staggering 91 percent of non-Christians, this was the first word that came to their mind when asked about the Christian faith. The same was true for 80 percent of young churchgoers.
The United Methodist Church recently adjourned their quadrennial General Conference. Among the many things they did, two stand out. First, General Conference struggled with various competing, contradictory plans for restructuring the denomination. Finally passing one, most folks present in Tampa and reading news reports, felt far too much energy was expended on these matters. At the same time, they reaffirmed some sentences in the Book of Discipline which state, without qualification, that homosexuality is contrary to the teachings of the Church.

Even more than bureaucratic bloat, this single act may be costly to the future of the denomination; while the delegates in Tampa were insisting the United Methodist Church proclaim it continue to discriminate, they were simultaneously wringing their hands over falling membership and participation in various church-related groups and activities. That there might be a relationship between these two things didn't come up, unless by some of the delegates who voted to remove the offending passage. I know there are people who think the Church, any church, should continue to uphold bigotry and discrimination on the basis of some alleged doctrinal and Biblical "principle". Except, alas, as Christians, we aren't people who act on principle. Nowhere in any of Church history does it say we Christians make mountains out of molehills, then make our stand there.

Martin Luther didn't take his stand at Worms because of priestly concubinage or Papal politicking; he did it because the Mother Church had forgotten the basic Gospel message of salvation by grace through faith, which frees believers from the burdens laid upon them by a system of indulgences that had become onerous. Jonathan Edwards preached a Gospel of beauty and grace as the Divine attributes that prevent an otherwise just God from dropping us sinners from the hands of an otherwise angry God. These and so many more offered a vision of God as open, loving, accepting, and the people came.

Some in the Church of today are demanding we exclude, with words filled with hatred, some people. This has become so prevalent that the vast majority of non-Churched and non-Christians in the world think this is our defining characteristic. Considering that the United States as a whole - despite the Tampa vote and the passage of Proposition No. 1 in North Carolina - is becoming more and more tolerant and accepting of same-sex marriage, we are under a very real threat of losing an entire generation, at least from denominations that continue to practice discrimination and preach and teach exclusion.

The world is not ours. This is not some bland cliche but a very real social and cultural phenomenon, and we in the United Methodist Church owe it to ourselves to live out the Gospel of love and acceptance of all persons, precisely because we are principling ourselves to irrelevance and, perhaps, our collective demise.

Virtual Tin Cup

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